Life Lessons

Building an online curriculum for economic empowerment.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jared Kaplan

CREDIT OppLoans.pngWhen it comes to teaching personal finance, educators need all the help they can get. Nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic financial literacy test, and data from the Federal Reserve show that consumer debt hit an all-time high in early August. But bringing money management lessons to life and making them relevant to students is a challenge, to say the least. That’s where technology comes into play.

Digital resources combined with an online learning management system (LMS) can deliver lively, engaging instruction. They allow educators to leverage interactive videos, quizzes and exercises to teach students the knowledge and skills they need to build healthy financial habits. Since there are no national requirements or formal support systems for financial education in schools, such resources are urgently needed. In fact, a recent survey found that 92 percent of K-12 teachers believe financial education should be taught in schools, but only 12 percent actually do.

We believe in the power of education to lift the trajectory of individual lives. Education doesn’t always lead to change, but it’s always where change begins.

To help close this gap, OppU is an online curriculum that provides free financial literacy lessons to schools, colleges and consumers. Each lesson is comprised of a series of short, interactive videos that require students to answer questions periodically in order to advance. The curriculum is structured to engage students and help them retain the content. Videos – particularly interactive videos – are a great way to do this.

To build it, we began by reviewing existing online resources for financial education. We discovered that many of the sites were stuck in the past — most of them offered PDFs and text-heavy webpages. We decided that we wanted to give financial literacy a modern makeover, and we wanted to make it free and available to all.

The curriculum was informed by the belief that financial education should be brought into the digital age. We explored a number of cutting-edge learning management systems but decided that platforms like Bridge, Cornerstone and Litmos — though quite sophisticated — were better suited to corporate training than education. Ultimately we opted for Moodle, an open-source platform.

Because Moodle is open-source, it’s constantly evolving. A global community of users and developers create plugins and add them to a public repository where they are free to download and use. This allowed us to customize our LMS using features that were quite possibly dreamed up on the other side of the world.

Our challenge, however, was to tailor Moodle to financial literacy and take it above and beyond what others have done. To do this, we worked with a team of Moodle experts to develop a custom theme. In addition, we found exciting plugins to use. One of our favorites is a technology called “H5P,” which superimposes interactive hotspots over images and video. By installing it, we were able to add pop-up questions to our videos. The result is a great tool that encourages active learning and tests student comprehension.

OppU features 11 videos and six cumulative quizzes that comprehensively cover the fundamentals of financial literacy. But the problem with teaching money management isn’t that the material is tough. Rather, it’s that many people don’t take the lessons to heart until it’s too late. Because of this, drilling home concepts is key, so we end each series of video lessons with a cumulative quiz. These quizzes not only test learners, they also help them process the material through the act of information retrieval.

Through a carefully curated assortment of technological features, we made this solution a fun, interactive space for students to learn. However, we also wanted to make sure it would be a useful resource for educators in K-12 and higher ed. To achieve this, we added a feature that allows teachers to confirm student completion of the lessons.

The curriculum is suitable for use in the classroom or it can be assigned as homework. To keep up with a generation on the go, it’s optimized for display on tablets and phones. And though lessons are designed to be self-contained, they’re not intended to replace a teacher’s creativity in the classroom. Activities like role playing and small-group discussions are great ways for students to learn about money management.

These lessons are aligned to standards developed for K-12 learners, but the material is suitable for anyone hoping to understand money management—including adults of all ages. At my company, we see the effects of economic distress, and financial education is critical to helping people avoid these situations if they can.

By leveraging the best in education technology, we created this free resource to deliver the knowledge and skills people need to start and stay on the right financial path. We did this because we believe in the power of education to lift the trajectory of individual lives. Education doesn’t always lead to change, but it’s always where change begins.

Jared Kaplan is CEO of OppLoans, an online lender that provides safer, more affordable borrowing options to the underbanked. He received his BBA from the University of Michigan, co-founded the online business insurance broker Insureon, and previously held positions at Accretive LLC and Goldman Sachs & Co. At OppLoans, he and his team launched OppU to deliver on the firm’s commitment to economic empowerment. The site teaches financial literacy through interactive videos, cumulative quizzes and more, and is free to use and available to the public at www.OppLoans.com/mooc.

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